Teachers Learn From The Down Under

According to the website for the Texas state comptroller, Texas ranks 49th in verbal SAT scores and 50th in percentage of adults with a high school diploma. There are a lot of reasons for why Texas lags behind the rest of the nation and educators, politicians and parents are scrambling to find solutions. In the mean time, some teachers are in search of new methods to bring into the classroom, and some are going to the land down under to find them.

Last summer, Kempner High School English teacher Janice Callihan and librarian Paula Morton attended a national literacy conference in Tasmania, Australia using a grant they received from Fund For Teachers. Here’s Callihan:

“We are very interested in literacy and reading and we thought that by going to Australia, which is the fourth or fifth nation rated in literacy, we would learn some new skills—things that we could bring back to our own teachers.”

While there, they were able to learn new strategies from a few Tasmanian high schools. Callihan says the number one thing they learned was the significance of reading and the importance of an integrated educational program.

“Reading and writing is integrated in all of their subjects, not just in English.”

She also says, here, reading and comprehension aren’t always an important part of the high school curriculum.

“This might get me in trouble, but unfortunately, reading is not the number one priority in our school or probably any school in Fort Bend, or for that matter, probably Texas.”

Morton says the experience gave them a “new breath” into their teaching. When they returned to their school in Sugar Land, they brought new ideas into the classroom and have started to explore innovative ways to energize their students.

“Janice and I are doing an action research project with her reading class and the goal is for us to read up on these various strategies and then apply them in the classroom and see which ones the students actually find most useful.”

While Morton and Callihan are developing new reading and writing techniques for their high school students, Satori School teacher Nina Corely is bringing something else to her 4th and 5th grade classroom in Galveston.

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“Australian history, specifically, Aboriginal history, music and culture.” 

Nina to classroom: “And what are some of the ways that Australian Aboriginals are like the Native Americans…”

Australia booksCorely is another recipient of a Fund For Teachers grant who decided to go to Australia. She educates her students on the historical and cultural similarities between Native Americans and Aborigines—something, she believes, is unique and offers students and teachers a new way of approaching the subject.

“This gives something, you know, another way to look at it or to show the students when you’re teaching about it, it’s not just here, you know, these are things or thoughts that were going on around the world at that time.”

Like Callihan and Moreton, Corely believes that by looking at the world around you students and teachers will benefit academically.

“Today it’s sort of a global economy. And so the children need to be aware of other places in the world and the more you learn, the more comfortable you are with things, because people tend to be afraid of things they don’t understand or they don’t know about.”

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From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Wendy Siegle.